O that this too, too solid

O that this too, too solid / sullied flesh would melt

Act 1.2.129-159

This is the first soliloquy that appears after Claudius has sent Cornelius and Voltemand to the King of Norway, telling him to be wary of his nephew’s belligerent and hostile activities. It occurs just after Laertes is given leave to go to France and Hamlet, the Queen, and Claudius have had their sarcastic and tense argument regarding Hamlet’s melancholy disposition after the death of the former King Hamlet. It precedes Horatio’s enterance and his announcement of the Ghost’s three appearances.

In this soliloquy Hamlet releases the tension that has built up inside when he oppugns Claudius’ conclusion that it “shows a will most incorrect to heaven” to mourn for so long. During his opposition he still maintains some social restrictions that contrast with his denunciation of his mother and womanhood. But in the soliloquy his emotions are unleashed. In the soliloquy he goes through four main stages. At first there is the suicidal state of mind. However, whether it really is a suicidal state of mind is questionable. He could just be an expressive need to articulate his melancholy. Nevertheless, he expresses his wish for spiritual relief from corporeal existence. Notice how he would have himself melt into a dew almost automatically without having to do anything; this sums up the character of a man of inaction. His generalization of how “weary, stale, flat and unprofitable” all the uses of this world seem to him culminates to the point where all his troubles intersect: “That it should come to this!”  Everything before this statemen serves as a prelude to it. What follows is an analysis of the emotional vortex that he is going through. His attempt to define his sadness leads to anger.  He praises his father’s virtues and condemns Claudius lack of them. He then articulates his aversion to his mother’s sexual misconduct and her brief mourning period. Here he ascertains that he did not even know the true nature of his own mother. He is therefore left with no one to trust, which is congruous to the suspicious mood throughout the play. In a tone of finality he accuses womanhood of frailty. But anger and disgust is overflowing and he must continue to intellectualise about his mother’s revealed nature. In the final two lines, because of his social situation he restricts the emotional intensity and finds that he must “hold his tongue.”

The soliloquy opens in a complete mixture of prosody. There is no obvious or logical rythm, which is important since it reflects his agitated and melancholy nature. It is an invaluable technique that Shakespeare uses to mirror the irrational and heartbroken state of mind that Hamlet finds himself in. But in his praisful speech of his father, he manages to articulate a few successive feet that is expressive of his harmonic love for his father. When he then indicts his mother his frame of mind, again, becomes more distorted and a mixture between iambic, trochaic, and spondaic feet become evident. However, in the end, he again manages to articulate several lines in iambic pentameter demarcating the climax.

Another important observation of the structure is based on the punctuation. Hypens, commas and exclamation marks express the disjointedness of the soliloquy. The pauses and hypens emphasise his rational character since they give Hamlet time to ratiocinate, while at the same time they reflect his present tempestuous frame of mind.
The tone shifts from a melancholy tone that is heard in the wailing of his suicidal articulation. As he begins to analyze his problems the tone becomes muddled. As the melancholy tone reaches a helpless climax in “that it should come to this” a loving tone and then an angry and confused tone is added. All these terms describe the tone. It is a muddled tone, that again, is expressive of his perplexed state of mind. In the final two lines he manages to procure a quality of equanimity that is appropriate because it prepares us for Horatio’s entrance and serves as a dénouement.

What is most important about the imagery is its duality. It is dichotomized into Heavenly or Godly imagry and Eartly imagery. The first contrast occurs in Hamlet’s articulation of his prerequisite for spiritual relief. Dew, or solid or sullied flesh contrasts against the Everlasting and God. The juxtaposition of these two images express the first religious conflict that is a recurrent and dominant theme throughout the play. “O God,” contrasts with  “this world.” “Hyperion and Satyr” reflects the disillusionment that he has gone through. “Heaven and Earth” “O God, A beast” And finally “I to Hercules” The ultimate importance is that the images shed light on the disillusionment from his ostensibly idealistic past and his realization of the rankness and grossness that really dominate Denmark. This duality is recurrent throughoout the play. Rankness is compared to reality and contrasted against divine will.

The allusions to classical Roman and Greek gods or creatures, Such as Hyperion, Satyr or Niobe shed more light on Hamlet as an intellectual character.
The most salient and remarkable sounds are to be found in the climax of his speech. The “S” sounds mirror his rage and disgust of his mother’s misconduct. The serpent-like “S” sounds efficiently express the fire in his heart while demarcating the climax and finality of his speech.

The soliloquy is important because it establishes his sense of isolation that is perennial throughout the rest of the play. It reflects the theme of loneliness and the  theme of lack of trust. It establishes his love for his father and the famous “to be or not to be” motif. His denunciation of his mother and the phrase “frailty thy name is woman” foreshadows his mistrustful demeanour with Ophelia later in the play. It also brings up the theme of appearance vs. Reality as seen in the light of the “seeming virtuous queen” The soliloquy also establishes the theme of rankness and that Earth is an “unweeded garden.”

By Tariq Khan